Early 2007- Normal, IL
10 minutes before work, I’m sitting in the front hall of Heartland College, eating my apple. A man, middle-aged, wearing a sport jacket and a baseball cap with a briefcase, says hello to me in a placid tone. He stands looking out the window and then comes and sits by me. “What a glorious day” he says. Now I’m assessing his character; I peg him as a Mormon. Something about the phrase, “Glorious day”. But I was sitting in this very spot not too long ago, in fact, I was writing a poem about the day from this window. “So where are you on your journey?” the strange man says to me. Now I am convinced he is a religious nut. My voice is hesitant… how do you answer that kind of question to someone you’ve never met before? “My journey?” I say. Well, I’ve gotten clean from drugs and alcohol about three years ago.” He does not congratulate me or applaud. The man’s face is egg-shaped, his skin is freshly shaven, his baseball cap is fit tightly over his egg-shaped head.
“Are you content?” he asks. Now I’m skeptical, just waiting for the Christian segment to come in at any time. “Content”, I say, “Do you mean in a permanent sense?” “Yes, I mean permanent, sustained contentment.” “I don’t believe in permanent happiness. That’s a false happiness if you ask me.” My voice is rigid and defensive. “There’s a difference between contentment and happiness”, he says. “Well, what’s your definition of happiness?” I ask. He takes a moment to pause and then raises his hand in a gesture. “At one end, you have euphoria and happiness, and on the other end misery and suffering.” He holds his right hand directly in front of his nose and he is looking down at his hand as if it were a ruler. “In the center of the spectrum,” he says, speaking slowly, “Contentment.”
I jump in – “No, contentment is just a little toward the more positive end – but just a little. That is where you want to be. But in life, you’ll probably have certain events happen to you – such as the death of a family member or economic setbacks. And you will lose all that contentment. Or you may be thrown into ecstasy or elation. His hand is now directly in front of his nose and he’s staring straight down at it, his voice very slow and hypnotic. But I listen to him because he is talking about emotions. And I am surprised a Christian or Mormon would be so interested in “The spectrum of emotion.” However, I’m still fearful he would bring up some information about his church or about Jesus. So I tell the man with the baseball cap that I have to go to work, which I did. I had to go to work. “Well, it was nice to meet you,” he said, “And good luck on your journey.”